After years of minor hockey, junior and a four-season NCAA career at Cornell, Victoria Grizzlies alum Joel Lowry has just finished his first season where he got paid to play.
Lowry was a rookie forward with the American Hockey League’s Ontario Reign (in the California city, not the Canadian province). The experience added another layer of development to his game, which keeps him in the conversation as the Los Angeles Kings, who drafted him in 2011, plan their future.
“When you’re a pro, it’s your job,” says Lowry, 24. “I definitely think it’s that little things are more magnified at the pro level. The guys you’re playing with and against are a lot more talented.
That would include some teammates with plenty of NHL experience. The Reign’s No. 1 goalie was Peter Budaj and Paul Bissonnette was among the forward group. And there was some familiarity with former NCAA conference rival Jordan Samuels-Thomas, a Quinnipiac product, playing up front as well. Jonny Brodzinski, older brother of Penticton Vees forward Easton Brodzinski, was on the club as well.
With a dad, Dave, who played a long time in the NHL and remains in the game as a head coach with WHL Victoria and a brother, Adam, who spent last season with the Winnipeg Jets, you might think Joel had a leg up in adjusting to the pro game. But his NHL-tested family mainly left him to find his own way this past season.
“They don’t really give me too many pointers or anything; they let me figure it out for myself,” says the 6-foot-2, 185-pound left winger. “You have to do things differently (than in college) and preparation is probably the most important thing.”
Lowry got help in that department from veteran bench boss Mike Stothers, who has had stints as a head coach in the AHL and WHL as well as assistant’s roles in the NHL with Philadelphia and Atlanta.
“He’s very demanding but he’s a good teacher,” says Lowry. “As a young guy, him giving that direction is really helpful.”
Lowry responded with five goals and six assists in 41 regular season games, upping his production to four goals and two helpers in 12 playoff games. He finished the regular and postseason as a plus player.
That stems from knowing what to do with the puck when it gets to you. And that’s a bigger challenge in the pros with each player’s time and space reduced that much more. That pressure forged in Lowry an asset that should help as he pushes for a job in the NHL.
“Probably my decision making (is better), says the Calgary native. “I think in college I tended to be a bit more high risk because I had a bit more leash. I think there’s still times to be creative, you just need to pick and choose more.”
The Kings were no doubt keeping a close watch on Lowry and his teammates with Ontario being just a 45-minute drive from Los Angeles. It was the first season for the Reign as an AHL franchise there, as it had been home to an East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) franchise before that.
“You definitely don’t want to take any nights off; there’s always someone watching,” notes Lowry. “We get really good support from the community. We have a nice rink; it’s an exciting place to play.”